Hope Smith of Sierra Madre, Calif.-based Born to Travel // © 2015 Hope Smith
Feature image (above): Smith believes Loreto is an up-and-coming destination for travelers to Mexico. // © 2015 iStock
Hope Smith knows a thing or two about Mexico. The luxury travel agent of Sierra Madre, Calif.-based Born to Travel, affiliated with Montecito Village Travel and Virtuoso, lived there until she was 10 years old. Fluent in Spanish, Smith often returns to the country she describes as “warm and welcoming.” And though Smith’s knowledge is not limited to Mexico, her vast expertise of the region has earned her accolades from National Geographic Traveler and Conde Nast Traveler.
Below, Smith offers her take on Mexico’s emerging resorts and travel trends, as well as last-minute holiday travel to the destination.
Can you share more about your interest in selling Mexico?
I was born in Monterrey, Mexico. I’ve always felt that the minute the airline staff open up that airplane door, my Spanish just comes out; I know where I am, and I know what to do. I understand the culture.
Mexico used to have the saying “feel the warmth,” which I love. It truly is the warmth — not only from the temperature but also from the people — that makes Mexico such a great destination and is why so many people go back year after year.
How do you usually approach planning clients’ travel to Mexico?
I try to go above and beyond and ask many questions, such as where clients have stayed and what have they seen, to help them realize there is so much more than the all-inclusive resort that they always go back to.
You still have people who feel reserved about Mexico. I always try to put them at ease by sharing the relationships I have with our hoteliers and transfer people. They wouldn’t take clients to a place where they wouldn’t go themselves. Plus, they always have me to call as their representative, and I will then call the sales manager or the general manager.
I am going to steer clients in the right direction. Mexico is what I’m known for, so it is my responsibility to know the differences between resorts. I am going to tell clients how far is it from town and if they have to take a cab. I give them the tiny details — that’s my job as a travel advisor.
Mexico is considered a classic holiday travel destination, especially for those who live on the West Coast. Are there any new destinations or upcoming attractions they should be aware of?
Cabo San Lucas is making a comeback, with so many properties that were supposed to open this August or July that didn’t, so they are all opening this season and are brand-new. You’ve got The Cape, a Thompson Hotel, which recently opened. Pretty soon, you’ll have the new Breathless Cabo San Lucas Resort & Spa.
There are still a lot of people who have time shares in Los Cabos, which is always very popular. But with the new One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos and Las Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort, people are excited, and there are so many more new hotels coming. It’s a popular destination that’s very easy to get to, and you can usually score good flight fares into Los Cabos.
Do you have any suggestions for especially family-friendly destinations in Mexico?
I have a very good friend who took his entire family to Loreto, Mexico. Alaska Airlines has direct flights to Loreto, and there’s a lot of sea life there. It’s an up-and-coming family destination.
I definitely think the old standbys, such as Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta, are great for families because of the availability and all-inclusives — which they like. And now so many of those all-inclusives have evolved to offer families a variety of activities. Before, families may have just spent their time around the pool or at the beach. But now, families want to know about classes offered, or they want to go outside of the resort and go ziplining and horseback riding.
There are so many new companies in Mexico doing different things for families, and families are leaving the resorts to participate in and truly experience the destination.
How do you handle last-minute holiday travel bookings to Mexico?
Airfare is what will mostly determine your total budget. There are also rules that may apply during the holiday season. Some hotels require clients to stay a minimum of 10 nights, or maybe you can’t arrive on Christmas day.
Personally, I pick up the phone and call these hotels directly. I don’t rely on the Internet because the website may say there’s availability, but there actually isn’t. That is what a travel agent’s expertise is all about — it’s about doing the best we can with what we have.
However, if the clients are a family requiring connecting rooms or are requesting a certain property, you’re not going to get that at the last minute. I always suggest planning travel the moment families know their kids’ winter and spring break schedules.
Lately, Mexico’s beautiful beaches seem to have taken a backseat to the country’s culture and history. Can you tell us about this growing travel trend?
There have been a lot of developments in Mexico City, which, in turn, have attracted a young demographic of travelers, including families. First of all, almost every top chef is there now. Mexico City has incredible restaurants, world-class museums and great shopping.
San Miguel is a very popular inland destination, especially with expats. Also, Vayu Valle of Guadalupe, which is near Baja, Calif., is experiencing an incredible wine and food movement. There are a lot of smaller, bed-and-breakfast properties — similar to what you would find in California’s Napa and Sonoma — popping up in this locale.